IT Workers = Rodney Dangerfield?

I tell you we get no respect, right?  I told my psychiatrist that everyone hates me. He said I was being ridiculous – everyone hasn’t met me yet.  (Rodney was great, btw.)

But seriously, I totally understand the feeling that seems to be common in IT workers.  These days we are being squeezed to do much more with far less resources.  Often we are totally focused on acquiring hard skills just so we can keep up with the avalanche of new tech that comes out daily.  And let’s be honest with ourselves for just a second, we’re always looking to beef up our resumes and make ourselves as marketable as possible.  These things have the very serious potential side effect of putting us out of sync with the needs of the business.

I spent some time with an IT department today that was a living example of this.  They were very determined on the course of action that they decided was the best one.  They were obviously passionate about technology and felt these investments would make a hugely positive impact on the business as a whole.  See if this sounds familiar:  “This is just what we need to do.  I don’t care how you pay for it, we just need to do it.  We CAN’T roll out in phases, we NEED it all.”  I hear things like this and I think: Danger, Will Robinson.

Let’s break this down a bit: 

  1. You the technology worker can’t (or won’t) be writing the checks personally to cover the cost of whatever you are proposing.
  2. You will NOT be the sole decision maker for any kind of large project.  (At least I never have been.)
  3. Whatever new thing you think is going to turn your network into rainbows and unicorns MUST bring MORE value (basically increased revenue or decreased costs) to the business than will be plunked down to make it happen.

Hopefully these three statements will put things into perspective that technology can relate to a little better.  What it boils down to is you must play nice with others. You must know what the business wants and what it needs (different lists sometimes).  If you want to have a project funded, take the acronym ridden quote that your vendors gave you and translate it into what your business stands to gain from it.  Bend over backwards to forge the strongest bonds possible between technology and the decision makers.  Make sure that you know what is important to them and always remember to align your proposals to their strategies.

PS.  If you’re not being invited to the meetings where they ultimately decide on these matters, that’s a bad sign.  Trust me.

Free Tools Friday 4

This week I am focused like a laser beam on media tools.  I have publicly committed to get my home media system straightened out and I WILL persevere.  You can benefit from my arduous trek by checking out these great tools.

My Movies 3 – My search for Home Media Utopia has had me ranging far and wide through the morass of media players, collection managers, codecs and so on that exist out there.  It’s an alphabet soup of audio and video formats and very easy to get lost. My Movies is a great package that’s been around the block a bit and really cuts down on the confusion.  They recently released version 3 which is even simpler that it was before.  It will help you catalog your movies and music, will get cover art for CD’s and DVD’s and will even help you rip content to your hard drive.  All that plus it will help you get around some limitations of the XBOX 360 media center makes a pretty mean package.  It’s so good, I actually thought that I had struck gold on the first pass because this package fills so many of the requirements that I set out in that post.  (You can go read it if you want to…)

MyMovies3

My Movies 3 Collection Management Screen

 MyMoviesInWMC

My Movies 3 Inside Windows Media Center
 

Virtual CloneDrive by SlySoft – I’ve been using this app for a long time.  Basically, it creates a “fake” CD/DVD device on your system that lets you read ISO files from your hard drive as if you had actually burned them.  It’s small, it’s fast, it’s free.  What more do you want?

 

Boxee – This SWEET app is best described as social media meets all of the glorious video content that the interwebs have to offer.  It’s a little different in purpose than My Movies, but there are some overlaps.  Boxee leads you through an account creation process, during which it will ask about your other social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook etc.  It then checks to see which of those people have Boxee accounts and then it lets you see what they’ve watched, rated and recommended both in their own library of content, but also from the vast quantity of video available out there.  It’s a slick, easy interface and runs on Mac, Linux, and Windows.  If I didn’t have an XBOX 360, I’d throw Boxee on a Linux home theater PC and go to town!

Boxee

Boxee’s Online Video UI

Hark, Windows 7 Cometh

Ah, Microsoft.  We’ve had some good times.  We’ve had some bad times.  It’s really hard for the average person to understand how you can go from a solid, stable operating system like Windows XP to a bloated, irritating thing like Vista.  You and I both know that it’s not the first time, but let’s not talk about Windows ME.  Let’s focus on the future.  The launch is tomorrow, so let’s talk about Windows 7.

I’ve been using Windows 7 for quite a few months now on my HP tablet and overall I have been very impressed. I ran Vista on the tablet previously and there were definitely times when it seemed sluggish.  (It’s not like a slow machine, it has 8 GB of RAM and an SSD hard drive.) As soon as I installed 7, I saw an IMMEDIATE increase in performance.  I also liked the new taskbar and the little gimmicky window tricks, I love that you can configure the Nag Quotient of UAC, and I think the tablet-specific features are absolutely outstanding.

Initial Setup – At the risk of gushing, I think the install of Windows 7 is hands-down the cleanest and simplest process of any version of Windows.  Ever.  It’s pretty fast, it asks minimal questions along the way, and it’s quite intelligent at figuring out drivers and such.

Drivers – Drivers were the great stumbling block of Vista’s launch.  I remember months after the launch of Vista tearing my hair out by the roots in frustration because I couldn’t find HP scanner drivers for our CEO’s PC.  We’re talking HP here, not some small time vendor that operates out of their garage.  Contrasted with that experience, I had the fingerprint software for my tablet install automatically through Windows update and just start working without me even noticing.  That’s like the holy grail of driver support.

Interface/User Experience – I think the interface is much the same as Vista, although the small improvements are quite useful.  The taskbar allows you to pin icons there and if the app supports it, will give you common task lists specific to that program.  For example here is my context menu for Google Chrome:

image You can see that the most visited sites are listed along with other things I might want to do with that application.  It took me a little bit to get in the habit of using this, but I find that it really speeds things up for me.  I use multiple monitors on my desktop, so the key combination of Windows Key + right or left arrow, which moves the active window to the next monitor is one of my favorites.

Best Little Known Feature – This one is for the user support side of my personality.  Windows 7 has built in a little application called Problem Steps Recorder.  If you go to Start > Run and type psr, then hit enter you will see a simple window that looks like:

image

This is geared towards an end-user that might be having problems with something.  The user clicks on “Start Record” and then does whatever they are having issues with.  They then click “Stop Record” and then they will be asked where to save a ZIP file which contains Screen Shots, program and system information recounting what they did along with any comments that the user might have entered.  All wrapped up in a neat package and ready for your user to email to you for help.  It’s the next best thing to remote control!

image

Conclusion – This is a worthy successor to Windows XP.  I’m recommending to our clients who are thinking about making a change that they give this serious consideration.  Trust me, switching will feel like trading in your 10 year old Ford Explorer for that brand-new 370Z convertible you’ve been eyeballing. Well done, Windows 7 team!

It’s Report Card Time

How do you know if your IT provider is doing a good job?  How do they stack up against someone else you might partner with?  Here are some ways you can figure it out. 

**Check back in with me and I’ll post a spreadsheet with all of this nicely laid out for you.

(BTW:  If you’re an IT provider, you may be tempted to just move on.  Clearly there is a TON of material on YouTube that needs your attention.  Perhaps, though you might want to run through these test and ask yourself, “How do I rate?  What level of service am I providing?”  Just a thought…)

The Metrics

I’m a big believer in gathering data and measuring performance.  Here’s a list of important things to be measuring if you’re using outsourced IT.  (Honestly, these are some of the same things I measure for our internal IT staff also…)

  • Response time – How long from the time of notification of a problem until it BEGINS to be addressed? 
  • Resolution time – How long from the time of notification until the problem is resolved?
  • Incidents per Month – How many times did you have to call?
  • Unresolved Issues – How many things are left outstanding at a time?
  • Incident Cost – How much did you pay each time?
  • Issue Recurrence – How many times did the SAME issue come up?
    Think about how your guys stack up.  Do they give you any kind of usage data about how your partnership is going?  Could you easily get the averages for the above?  If not, why not?

The Relationship

This is the more touchy-feely part of things.  It looks to find out how you overall feel about working with your technology partners.  There are some critical indications here that may even outweigh the metrics we discussed earlier.

On a scale of 1 to 5 rate the following of your IT provider (1 being strongly disagree 5 being strongly agree):

1.  They are there when I need them.

2.  They follow through on their commitments.

3.  I always know where we are in the process.

4.  If I had to change providers tomorrow, it would be fairly painless.

5.  I am comfortable with our disaster recovery and security plans.

6.  Our disaster recovery plan has been successfully tested.

7.  They listen to and understand our business and our problems.

8.  They proactively seek out technology to help us achieve the company’s goals.

9.  They go the extra mile.

10. Their services have improved over the time we have used them.

Total up all of the scores, then multiply by 2.  If they rate lower than a high 70, what are you doing with them?  It’s time to make like Tina and drop your Ike like yesterday’s newspaper.  Seriously, if you can’t rate them higher than a C, what are they really bringing to your partnership.  How successful can your business be with C technology support? 

Basic Anatomy of Customer Service

Primarily, I come at the world from a technology mindset.  Generally that is the hammer and I go about my life looking for nails to bash in.  I am quite a Neanderthal in that respect.  A chubby, hairless one…

Over the course of my career, through a painful evolutionary process, I have come to realize that many times, technology is not the answer.  Sometimes the answer is in the people- sharper focus, better training, clearer priorities, for example. Sometimes the answer is in the process- improved efficiency, reduced waste, defined needs.  Slowly I have become more of a “thinking man” in this respect.

So, as a man who professes to think, what does it mean to actually serve the customer?  Turns out, it has almost nothing to do with technology at all.  The way I see it almost all interactions should be variations on the following five stages:

1. Listen

2. Plan

3. Execute

4. Test

5. Communicate

I can hear some of my geeky brethren now:  “WHAT?!  There’s nothing about servers or MSPs or Twitter even listed in that!  How could it possibly be right.”  Allow me to break it down.

1. Listen

A much used quote is relevant here.

‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

‘I don’t much care where—’ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

If you don’t know what problem you’re solving, it doesn’t really mater what you do next.  The only way you can find that out is…say it with me now…to LISTEN!

The customer doesn’t want to have to talk to their computer guy.  They can’t do their job and they have a boss to answer to, so they suck it up and make the call.  The LEAST you could do is actually listen to what they have to say.  I mean REALLY LISTEN.  I don’t just mean wait until they stop talking so that you can impart your great knowledge and wisdom to them.  They won’t use all the right words, of course, they may even say silly things like “the internet is down”.  (Really? The whole internet is down?  It’s the end of civilization as we know it!!)  The point is you must hear the customer first so that you will at a minimum know what they perceive the problem is.

2. Plan

This step can be as simple as hearing the problem, recognizing it and then fixing it.  Or it might be as complex as a multi-page write-up complete with diagrams and blueprints.  Whatever level is warranted, remember to keep the customer in the loop as to what your thoughts are and what your strategy will be to resolve the issue. 

The other critical piece of this stage is to fix in your mind what the perceived problem was (see above) and plan to address it with the same seriousness and attention to detail that you gave to the actual problem.  If you do not properly handle their concerns (right or wrong), even if you beat up their actual problem and take its lunch money, they will be left with the feeling that you didn’t do a good enough job.

3. Execute

This is where the rubber meets the road.  This is where you show your true mettle.  You can perform to your highest standards, paying attention to the smallest detail, following the plan and documenting what you do.  Or you can phone it in.  Ignore the details, leave the cables looking like a plate of spaghetti gone horribly wrong when you’re done.  Forget about the listening and planning you did in the first steps and let yourself get distracted by something that you weren’t even asked to look at.  Let the next guy document the thing.

What happens at this point is the price of admission, the minimum.  If you can’t get this step right, you shouldn’t even be playing the game.

4. Test

How do you know that step 4 is done and that you should wrap it up with step 5?  You test the original problem.  You see how this all comes together?  If you didn’t identify the problem right at the beginning or didn’t solve the right problem when you were executing, how can the customer EVER be satisfied?  Simple, they can’t.

You test the problem when you think it’s fixed, then have them test it and see if they agree.  If not, you have more work to do.  Why don’t they think it’s fixed?  Is there a perception problem?  This issue must be settled before moving on, or your customer will feel rushed and that you had “better things to do”.

5. Communicate

What more could there possibly be?  Aren’t we done yet?  Can’t we go hit the Denny’s for a Grand Slam?  Clearly not.  You must communicate several things to the customer.  Depending on the situation they could include:

  • Everything that you actually did
  • Anything they might expect to see or happen as a result of what you did
  • A detailed rundown of any further steps or actions that may need to happen
  • When those furthers steps will take place
  • Any helpful tips on preventing the issue in the future

If the customer is left wondering about any of these things, you’ve lost an opportunity to set yourself apart.

 

I’ve clothed all of this in techie garb (free vendor t-shirts and old jeans), but I think the general outline of it holds true for most customer service interchanges.  Think of a great experience you’ve had with some company.  (It took a few minutes didn’t it?)  Now run down the steps and see what they did or didn’t do.  Pretty close, eh?

Now think of a really bad experience.  (Yeah, you had one right off, I know…)  Which of the steps did they neglect?  Maybe they ignored your real problem and just tried to fit you into one of their existing “support channels”.  Maybe they did something for you, but didn’t explain and then just went away, leaving unsure as to what to expect next.

I think these things are widely applicable in almost any setting.  I’d love to hear what you think…

An Open Letter to IT Service Providers and Small Business Owners

Dear Friends,

I speak as a man of two nations, bridging the great and abysmal chasm that separates two equally necessary groups that seemingly must ever exist apart.  I speak of the commonwealth of business with its drive for growth, success and profits.  I speak of the nation of technology with its love of innovation, problem-solving and shiny things.  They should be the greatest of friends and allies, but barriers in language and world-view conspire to keep them apart.

I’m speaking to you Alan the field technician who is trying to fix that law firm’s Blackberry Email problems.  The lawyers who own that firm and the people who work there care as much about your convoluted explanations of the inner workings of DNS, BES, SMTP and POP as you do about oral hygiene.  (Seriously, brother, get some mouthwash or a mint or something.)

I’m also speaking to you Jerry the mortgage broker with 25 people in your office.  The broken down five year old computers that you bought at Wal-Mart are not going to help you grow your business and increase your profitability.  Nobody is saying you have to buy top of the line, but new equipment will make your people happier and more productive.

We must do better at working together.  Technical people you MUST do a better job of communicating, documenting and following up with the business folks.  After hearing a users problem, you cannot tell her that “You’ll get used to it” just because your Google search didn’t give you a quick fix answer.  You can’t stop working on a problem and not let the user know what the next steps are.  You simply can’t attempt to baffle them with bull every time you don’t know the answer or don’t feel like working on their issue. NEVER.

Business owners, you MUST be a little more patient with and give a little more credit to the technology folks.  When you are planning out your new software project, don’t call your provider the day before the rollout and tell them there are five or six more things you need it to do and not expect to affect the delivery date.  Don’t call an expert, listen to their advice and then tell them how you know better.  NEVER.

We know we can’t live without each other.  We know that life would be far worse if we went our separate ways. 

IT guys, wake up!  The business needs for us to SUPPORT them in getting to their goals as efficiently as possible.  They need our help to get the absolute most technology bang out of their hard earned bucks.

Business people, know that technology people aren’t like other people.  They LOVE the tech for its own sake and sometimes forget that it has to make business sense.  Please help them in staying focused on what is important to you.  Most technology professionals are hard wired to want to help, like a St. Bernard.  Point them in the right direction and they will dig your problems out of the avalanche.

I know that what I am asking is akin to getting Jerry to stop beating on Tom, like getting the Sharks to bury the hatchet with the Jets, or like getting Mac guys to admit they actually ARE PCs.  In spite of this, I remain hopeful that these two worlds can come together for the benefit of all.

 

Dave Purdon,

Student of Business and Life,

Lover of Shiny Things